Everybody experiences stress every so often. It is just an unfortunate part of being human. There is no way of escaping from it. However, what can be escaped from is seeing it as something to be proud of. This is essential as stress is having a detrimental effect on mental health. And can make people prone to more serious conditions. More needs to happen in tackling it.
Society appears to be encouraging us all to think that if they are not experiencing stress they are somehow not working hard enough. It doesn’t matter whether they are studying or at work. Stress as a badge of honour seems so entrenched in the collective psyche. It often feels as if people have a pre-programmed to respond in certain ways.
Why is it that when we ask a work colleague how they are getting on they always tell us they are really busy, super busy? Busier than you can imagine. It is like a mantra that repeats constantly out of a fear that God forbid anyone would think they don’t have lots to do. With everybody endlessly repeating this mantra, it gets worse and worse.
This inevitably increases the level of stress. People either try to work all the harder. Or conversely, experience more stress thinking that they are not working hard enough. It is like a vicious circle that just builds and builds. Then to make things worse some appear to take pride in stress. In many workplaces, stress can almost be encouraged as a means of boosting productivity. Some industries are notorious for this.
This is dangerous and it is not a term used lightly here. It is dangerous for three reasons. First, it normalises something that is detrimental to mental health. Whereby literally thousands of people are suffering yet may be thinking that it is normal and ok. It is not.
Of those thousands, there is likely a percentage who will suffer the effects of chronic stress. They are the ones who end up having a burnout or breakdown. It is only when this happens that any real attention is given to stress. Anything less is all but overlooked.
Second. By normalising something detrimental to mental health people perpetuate the stigma around mental health. In that it allows people to then be dismissive of other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
Treating them in the same way as to stress, i.e. something to either to ignore or accept without question. This belittles the importance that needs to be placed on mental health. And ultimately allows people not to take the development and maintenance of positive mental health seriously.
Third. As alluded to earlier by being accepting or dismissive of stress people can be more likely to develop other mental health issues. Albeit not unknowingly. Stress can act as a gateway symptom for so many things. Its effects are both mental and physical. It can cause lack of sleep, lack of concentration; stimulate fear.
So many things; even low levels. Over a sustained period, these symptoms in themselves can lead to other things such as anxiety, depression or paranoia. Left unchecked or just put down to a part of stress these other issues can start to develop independently. They remain even when the initial cause of stress ends. Once established these issues are a lot harder to overcome.
If society wants to do more to tackle mental health issues in general then it must change its attitude toward stress. Stress is no doubt a mental health issue. And people should attempt to avoid it at all costs. Workplaces and educational establishments can do more to eliminate it. Or put more measures in place in supporting people who experience it.
If a healthier attitude toward tackling stress cannot be taken, then what chance is there for tackling other mental health issues? Yes, a lot is being done at the moment. But somehow it appears that there is this gaping hole around stress. This needs to be filled before moving on to other things. Stress cannot just be ‘normal’ when tackling mental health. It’s a part, a big part of the same overall issue.
If society cannot get that right what chance does it have? More can be done and should be done. It is just a question of commitment. It is possible to tackle stress more constructively, isn’t it about time?